Could Utah or BYU win a national championship in modern college football?
Even if — a huge if, granted — they were good enough, talented enough to win one?
The answer to that question comes in the words of former Utah quarterback Brian Johnson, who stood on the field after the 2009 Sugar Bowl, confetti dropping on his head in the Superdome, having just defeated Alabama. “We,” he said, pointing to himself and his teammates, “were the only ones who believed we could do this.”
None of those players is now on any kind of selection committee.
That was back when Utah was in the Mountain West. But even in the Pac-12, perception leans away from the Utes and darn near every other team.
Belief these days has grown short, opportunity even shorter.
Bet you 50 bucks the direct answer to the question isn’t just no, it’s hell no.
Another question: If some great magical power had taken this year’s Alabama team’s same players and put them in Utah’s uniforms and Kyle Whittingham had coached them the same way Nick Saban did, would the Utes have qualified for the CFP?
As is, Alabama barely qualified, the last team in. Take away the draping of the Crimson Tide, put their players on a team in the Pac-12, like the Utes, and have them suffer a late-season loss the way the Tide did against Auburn, and guess who’s not getting an invitation.
The guys out West.
And that reality reflects a major shortcoming in the current college football playoff.
It’s still not complete.
Ask undefeated Central Florida about that, a Group of Five team that beat everybody on its schedule, including the same opponent that both finalists in the national championship game — Georgia and Alabama — lost to during the regular season. It certainly would agree.
This isn’t a rationalize-the-strength-of-schedule argument, though. It’s an inclusion argument, a unify-a-fractured-and-largely-regionalized-game argument.
In the wake of the latest playoff, won as it was by Alabama, discussions have erupted again, same as they ever have, about how the current four-team playoff can be improved.
The answer, same as it ever was, is much less complicated than the fine points of how to make it happen.
An eight-team format is the simple part. Take each of the five power conference champions and invite three at-large teams. Boom. Done.
That configuration would eliminate the problems of shutting out power league champions — winners of the Big Ten and Pac-12 were excluded this year — and G5 standouts such as 13-0 UCF.
It would tamp down regional bias/favoritism that teams from the South, the SEC in particular, receive. They still might get that nod among the at-large slots, but having champions included from every P5 league, from every part of the country, limits the scope of that.
And as for the money-grubbing aspect that the NCAA loves, all to the glorification of amateurism and more importantly certain favored bank accounts, the eight-team playoff would make billions and billions of dollars.
The difficulty with that plan was pointed out by Georgia coach Kirby Smart, who said before his Bulldogs played in the title game that he wasn’t sure his players could have much handled another week of practice and play, mixed with their responsibilities as students, inconvenient matters like final exams.
Georgia played 15 games this season, one fewer than the NFL regular season. That schedule included 12 regular-season games, an SEC championship game, the semi-final Rose Bowl and the title game. If fatigue, in truth, was a factor, it could be argued that the Bulldogs were penalized by having to play one more game than Alabama because the Crimson Tide did not qualify for the SEC championship game.
Some have suggested that if an eight-team format is adopted, all conference championship games should be eliminated. No chance of that happening since the substantial revenue generated by those title games goes straight to the leagues.
That’s part of the aforementioned glorification of amateurism: The labor is cheap and the profits are deep.
Still, at the dirty college level, creating additional competitive opportunity for players and teams is worth — even for them — living with the fact that certain fat cats, institutions, are getting fatter and richer off the efforts of athletes who are getting comparative crumbs. Spare us the lectures on the value of providing scholarship and cost-of-living monies.
Adding one more week of prep and games, though, for a very select group of teams wouldn’t matter all that much measured against the benefits of extra inclusion.
For those who suggest the CFP simply should take the P5 league champions and have Nos. 4 and 5 play in an elimination game earlier in December, that doesn’t solve the exclusivity problem for teams outside the P5. And under that arrangement, Alabama, which proved to be the best team in the land this season, would not have been included.
For those who argue that inviting eight teams versus four wouldn’t slow the flow of debate over who should get in and who shouldn’t, much the way that increasing the number of basketball participants in the NCAA Tournament still causes controversy, here’s something worth considering. Once the selection process gets to eight — or 68 for basketball — few teams, actually none, outside of that would have any realistic shot at winning a national championship. It would require three straight wins — in this case, upsets — against the best opposition in the country. Anybody believe the first team out — No. 69 — ever could win the basketball title?
Maybe Brian Johnson would.
Five champions and three at-larges may not be football’s perfect number. But it’s better than what’s in place now. Four falls short. Eight is enough.
Gordon Monson hosts “The Big Show” with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.